“Sylvio” is a bit depressing yet undeniably charming independent movie – a candy for the fans of DIY sets and when-life-gives-you-lemon stories.
The titular Sylvio is a guerrilla (yeah, an animal), who lives a completely dull life. Despite the inability to speak any language at all, he works as an over-the-phone debt collector. Once the work is over, Sylvio jumps into the role of a self-grown puppeteer and creates short videos. One day, by a complete accident, Sylvio is hired to star in a television show, where he smashes things with a baseball bat. The fame, however, isn’t quite what makes him happy and fulfilled.
There isn’t a particular genre that calls films such as “Sylvio” weird, but these bizarros are hard to categorize.
Such unconventional movies often sacrifice their cinematic foundations to remain odd and unprecedented. And while we crave creativity more than ever before (thanks to the flood of remakes and derivatives), these lonely, weird rangers are often easily forgotten and omitted precisely because of their hard-to-overcome weirdness.
“Sylvio”, directed by the duo Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney, balances the two factors weighing in heavily – the weirdness and the purpose of using it.
On paper, this independent movie is about an ape, which lives in our society, wears human clothes, earns a penny to make ends meet etc. You might think that Sylvio could have been a mute guy in his 40s and there isn’t any need for him to be an animal.
Furthermore, the concept of him being an ape isn’t comprehended in a broader way – unlike “BoJack Horseman”, where animals are on par with humans, the classic sci-fi horror “They Live” about aliens living among people or even “Bright” with orcs as suburban gangstas – “Sylvio” doesn’t portray an alternative world, but a tiny fraction of it.
The context of an ape living among us is, to say the least, vague.
Along with that comes the scarcity of the budget, seen from miles away and written all over “Sylvio”. While I consider myself a fan of the set designs that turn on my brain cells (like “Dave Made a Maze” or “Ederlezi Rising” that I reviewed), “Sylvio” will often come across as cheap. The television studio set-up in a basement, even the suit worn by an actor playing the titular animal – they all appear to be budget-associated solutions and not free choices.
After all you’ve read so far, you’re probably expecting a continuity of puns and a complete Critical Whup-Ass of “Sylvio”.
Not this time.
Notwithstanding these constraints that the directors face, their ugly duckling has touched me on a deeper level. Essentially, Sylvios walk among us – people who are exploited in jobs they hate, but remain too powerless to turn the tides. The case of this particular Sylvio is that his misery is double-barrelled thanks to him being a guerilla. It sentences him to be an aggressive, even dangerous being in the eyes of others as if an inherent feature that cannot be different by default.
Just like my favourite non-human character BoJack Horseman, Sylvio is also very relatable. Hidden behind a stiff mask and a furry costume, there is more raw emotions beaming from that character than from a plethora of other dramatic roles. Once you begin to notice the details, this independent darling turns into a poem about the futility of life – can we pursue our dreams within the confines created in the society?
The subliminal message is also cunningly weaved in the series of puppet show episodes. They are short flashes of things Sylvio craves, observes or finds interesting, all encapsulated in a figure of an emotionless, bald man in a brown suit, made of cardboard. It beautifully empowers the plot of the film.
Is “Sylvio” a good film then?
In the end, “Sylvio” makes up for all the faults resulting from its financial constraints. Unexpectedly, the directing duo proved that even as trivial source material as a series of vines can be glued together to form a film. I hope though it won’t become a more common attempt, because the risks of a complete failure are just way too high.
Dir. Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney
Hate Grade: 3.5/10